Busted Halo

Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.

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April 4th, 2011

church-hopping-flash3The more years that separate me from my time at Notre Dame, the more I realize how easy college made certain things in life.  Making friends was easy as I was surrounded by a great community of people with whom I had a lot in common; I never had to spend a lot of energy finding people with similar interests.  We also had Mass in our dorm, which meant we all went to Mass with our closest friends — it didn’t take a lot of extra work to be part of a spiritual community.  In fact, being a theology major and, in general, just being a Domer, it was never difficult to find tons of groups, retreats, events, or volunteer opportunities that guaranteed an awesome spiritual community.

Then I graduated and lived in a Catholic Worker house.  As a community we said daily prayers together, usually attended daily Mass, and were always having discussions about faith and Church teachings and how to live out the Gospel.  It too was a wonderful spiritual community.

Then came Austin — when I finally found out how hard it is to make friends in the “real world”.  There was no longer a guaranteed community.  …

April 2nd, 2011

The scene: 10 eighth-grade religious education students, their teacher, and yours truly—a plucky seminarian who was brought in for “Vocation Awareness Day.”  I talk, explaining the many ways we can all serve God in our lives, and that religious life is one of those ways — a very good way… yada, yada, yada.  Are there any questions?  A hand goes up.  I graciously call on the inquisitive young child.

“Why are priests always so fat?”

It is important to note that there was still some sugar on my shirt from the doughnut I had just scarfed down after Mass… black clothes do a terrible job of hiding sugar.  It is also important to note that the previous evening I had more than my fare share of Texas Barbecue at an establishment known as “The Salt Lick” and I can only guess as to how much brisket my system was still digesting.  The morning before that I delighted in a jalapeno-and-cheese sausage breakfast burrito.  At this point, I had gained eight pounds since arriving at my pastoral assignment with four months to go.  That’s in addition to the ten pounds I had gained since joining religious life.

KS_Priest_HotDog_CROPWhile I cannot claim …

April 1st, 2011

losingmayorships-insideI spent last weekend in Philadelphia at a friend’s house, where a group of my old friends and I convened to catch up on each others’ lives. It was a very 21st century sort of gathering: eight of us live across four states, and the weekend was organized through a combination of text messaging, emails, and Facebook. Somehow, despite confusion of train times and places, we all arrived at my friend’s apartment with enough spare blankets and more than enough food to go around.

The subject of Lent came up when, after a friendly reminder that it was Saturday, there was a sigh of relief that we could all eat chicken and pasta with prosciutto. A few of us in the group are Catholic, to varying degrees, and everyone tries to be adaptable.

Only one friend besides myself had made a Lenten sacrifice; she gave up using FourSquare for the forty days. For those who don’t know, FourSquare is a social media tool that has people “check-in” at different locations, usually restaurants and stores, on their smartphones. In addition to telling the world where you are, it also tells you who else is at the location at the same time …

March 31st, 2011

hateaboutyou-flashWhen it comes to loving technology the difference between Brandon and I is staggering.  Brandon loves it and, if not married to me, would have all things iThings.  On the other hand, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to use less of it just to prove Brandon wrong.  To be fair, Brandon has helped me (begrudgingly) understand how valuable technology can be.  It’s a tool and like any tool can be extremely useful, but can also be abused.  Seeing so many people using technology inappropriately has led me to create this list…

Ten Things That Drive Me Crazy About Technology:

10) It makes things that are not HD, 3D, or wide screen “boring”.  (On Christmas Day we were all watching the Muppet’s Christmas Carol – one of our family traditions.  After the opening credits my dad had already pulled out his iPad to watch YouTube videos, my mom was returning text messages on her iPhone, and Brandon was playing Monopoly with his iPod Touch.)

9) It has come without an instruction manual as to how to use it in a mannerly way.  (Very few people have a true sense of cell phone etiquette.  We all know this because we’ve …

March 27th, 2011

prayer-blackberry-largeI need to pray more. It’s a thought that goes through my head about once a day, yet more often than not I don’t act on it. Whether I sat in the comfort of my own apartment or on the subway with a prayer book and Psalms in my purse, it is easier to find excuses. Like today’s for example, when I packed a book of letters from Rabbi Nachman of Uman with a special prayer to be read for 40 days straight to bring on one’s soul mate. My excuse to only carrying it with me throughout the day but not reading from it: I can’t find my list of single people to pray for. What will be tomorrow’s excuse? Or the next day’s or the next?

I set a reminder on my BlackBerry every day to read a few Psalms to pray for a particular person to get married. I love and care for her deeply, yet I always find that work gets in the way. As if work is more important than taking 5 minutes out of my day to offer something to the Almighty as thanks. If I believe there is a higher power and nothing …

March 26th, 2011

apology-flashAs a sometime Catholic, I often find myself apologizing. Primarily, I find myself apologizing to those more devout than myself for my negligence. This comes up most often having dinner at my parents’ house with the priests from their parish, who ask the perfectly innocent questions of why they haven’t seen me in a while or where I go to church in my neighborhood.

The other side of the coin is having to apologize for having religious convictions at all. As someone in my twenties living in an urban area and in a so-called creative profession, it’s generally assumed by my acquaintances and associates that I am either an atheist or subscribe to some kind of a New Age-y religion (possibly with the intention of annoying my more conventional parents).

I get a lot of surprised reactions when it comes out that I am Catholic, and I often have to run damage control; this ranges from assuring whomever I’m talking to that he or she hasn’t offended me with an off-handed comment, or telling someone else that my social philosophies aren’t that different than his or hers despite my faith.

I feel worse at these times about apologizing for my …

March 23rd, 2011

Tom Shadyac, director of <em>I AM</em>

Tom Shadyac, director of I AM

What would you do with your millions of dollars? Give it away? Move into a mobile home? Make a documentary?

This past weekend I was inspired, to say the least, by two media productions. The first is Secret Millionaire on ABC. Have you seen it? The show’s premise is to embed a millionaire in an impoverished community to secretly seek out local heroes. Sounds kitchy, but I cried at least four times. When unassuming individuals, who work with little to no resources to help their community, were rewarded (with money) at the end of the show, they were brought to tears. It didn’t seem to matter if they were given pennies or a check for tens of thousands. They were just so happy that someone acknowledged them and that someone cared.

This show made me want to be a millionaire simply so that I can go around and reward deserving people, too. And if I had that money, that’s what I believe I would do.

That’s what Tom Shadyac did. In a different kind of way. You might be familiar with his films Ace Ventura and The Nutty Professor. But his humor fell …

March 22nd, 2011

In today’s media environment, we invariably hear the stories about which things go wrong.  I guess it’s human nature to focus on the negative, but the focus of news organizations do have its place.  I think that when issues like the sex-abuse crisis continue to unfold, we do need to be reminded of it so that we don’t turn our eyes away from it, lest we conveniently skip over the lessons that we may have to absorb as a Church.  I remember during Benedict’s visit a few years ago, a Catholic commentator was on television claiming that the Church sex-abuse crisis had been put behind her and now we could all move on… 18 months later it exploded again in Europe.  Sadly, negativity has its place in the world.

That being said, I realized after writing my last post which focused on the letter a friend of mine wrote to me concerning the sex abuse crisis, it might be important to take a step back and share what I like about the Catholic Church.  Because I can get stuck focusing on the wrongs of a person or the failures of an institution as much as anybody.  I am more than …

March 21st, 2011

lentenbandwagon-flash2My biggest problem during Lent is that I listen to too many other people’s Lenten sacrifices and get so excited about doing them myself that I take on too many things.  One year in college I was feeling particularly scrupulous and decided to give up sweets and meat and promised to go to daily Mass everyday (including Saturdays) and even do night prayer every single night.  That lasted all of four days.  Pitiful.

After many years of this I’ve come to realize that I won’t instantly transform from a regular schmo to a saint just because it’s Lent and I pretend to be a monk and give up snickerdoodles.  That’s why the Church gives us this time every year, because it takes time.  We can slowly and yearly become a little more like the person God wants us to become, but it cannot, and does not, happen from one day to the next — it takes a lifetime.

I don’t have any problems with people giving up sweets or beer or whatever they decide, but I’ve found this practice doesn’t help me in the slightest.  I usually just replace what I gave up with something else and go completely …

March 19th, 2011

For those of you who don’t know, the holiday of Purim is coming up March 19 – March 20 (21st in Jerusalem).  The holiday is kind of like a cross between Halloween and St. Patty’s Day with a Jewish flare – imagine dressing in costumes and drinking until you can’t tell the difference between good and evil.  To put you in the holiday spirit, and to understand more about Purim, enjoy this video from G-dcast narrated by my super talented spoken word princess and friend, Vanessa Hidary AKA the Hebrew Mamita.…

March 19th, 2011

virtuesBIGsmallI usually write about news events and the latest research, but virtue is all around us — and our best chance of character development comes in our relationships with our families. So here’s your to-do list for the day:

(1) Check out this website:

A college friend recently sent me a link to For Your Marriage, a website run by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s been around since 2007, but recently received a design overhaul to attract more readers.

It has tips on strengthening relationships, the importance of premarital preparation and — right up my alley — a section on marital virtues, updated each month.

I instantly liked the site because the lead story cites research from author and journalist Tara Parker-Pope on the myth about the all-too-often-quoted statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce. While that may have been true for marriages in the 1970s, the statistics are a lot more promising for couples — especially college-educated couples — getting married today.

So…

(2) Remember this bit of cocktail party conversation:

Have a college degree? You’ve taken a big step toward a healthier, happier marriage: College graduates are less likely to …

March 17th, 2011

laoflw-stpatrick-insideSt. Patrick’s Day has never been a holiday I paid much attention to. I don’t have any Irish heritage. I don’t like green beer. I’m not the biggest fan of corned beef, and am really not a fan of cabbage. I don’t really like parades either. It’s a bit lost on me. And, despite having lived in New York for most of my adult life, it never occurred to me to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on St. Patrick’s Day. So today I ventured into midtown to do just that.

It was a little bit ironic that during Mass I could hear the drums and bagpipes from the parade marching down 5th Avenue, and that in order to even get into the church I had to wade through rowdy groups of people looking for a party in the afternoon who chose the Cathedral as a meeting point. I have to imagine this is one of the busier days of the year for St. Patrick’s, but it was still a very personal experience, even with crowds of tourists roaming through the Cathedral, looking on in wonder during Mass.

I do have a soft spot for Ireland and Irish culture, even …

March 14th, 2011

post1-flash-40I consider myself a part-time Catholic. My faith is solid, I observe every Church holiday, but I’m not so good about getting to church every single week. My parents are involved in their church, and I always come over when they’re having the priests for dinner. These same priests were present at my wedding to my agnostic husband.

Catholicism is part of who I am, even if it isn’t woven into the daily fabric of my life. Every year Lent is my chance to make up for my inattentiveness the rest of the year. I get my ashes every Ash Wednesday, I don’t eat meat on Fridays, and I always give something up for the 40 or so days.

If I have a bad habit (aside from the short attention span that often keeps me out of church), it’s definitely swearing. Despite my best efforts to control it, I am ultimately a product of my environment: My mother taught me to speak my mind, and my father taught me the vocabulary. Though I do my best to keep it in check in business meetings and around my elderly relatives, when left to my own devices it sounds like a very …

March 13th, 2011

thenwere4-flashIt’s logical that the more you do something the better you get at it but it’s very strange to me that you can actually get better at giving birth. I did recently, giving birth to our second baby, Maria Catalina.  I handled the contractions much better and this time around it was a totally natural — no pain meds, no pitocin, not even an IV to stay hydrated.  It was a slow and long labor but we made it.

Our nursing situation was almost comical.  We had an awesome nurse at first but with a shift change 2 hours later we lost her pretty early in the game.  Then we got 3 nurses – a supervising nurse, a new nurse, and a student studying to be a nurse on her OB rotation.  It was quite the party in L&D Room number 7.

Our “new nurse” kept having to go ask the supervising nurse how to do stuff because it was so uncommon for her to be working with a woman that didn’t have an epidural.  That part was pretty annoying.  Um, I’m not sure if we can take the heart rate monitors off, let me go ask.  I’m not

March 12th, 2011

funA recent study suggests that some 30% of Americans has trouble relaxing and putting work aside to enjoy vacation – and a handful of us suffer from more acute “leisure sickness” and “weekend headaches” from our attempts at fun.

Reports the Wall Street Journal

Only 53% of working Americans say they come back feeling rested and rejuvenated after vacation, and 30% say they have trouble coping with work stress while they’re away, according to an Expedia.com survey of 1,530. Some try to cram in so much activity that they come back more exhausted than when they left. Others stay so plugged on Blackberrys and cellphones that colleagues and clients don’t even suspect they’re away.

“It’s been my experience that an ‘out of office’ response means nothing anymore,” says Edward T. Creagan, a medical oncologist who writes the Mayo Clinic’s stress blog. “We’re driving ourselves wacko with no time to power down.”

Attempting to relax even makes some people sick. Some 3% of the population suffers from “leisure sickness” when they go on vacation. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms, according to a 2002 study in the Netherlands. And a phenomenon of “weekend headaches” accounts for roughly one-third …

March 3rd, 2011

800px-Vallee_OssauI went back to Hillsong NYC yesterday with my best friend Wendy. Walking into Irving Plaza with Wendy is the norm as we’ve been attending and covering shows together since high school. However, the idea of having Sunday service at a concert venue still boggles my mind.

Yesterday’s service talked about three ways to make it through a valley. I couldn’t help but think of of my previous post, Coping with Rejection that seemed to strike a chord with many of you. I’m always reminded of the phrase, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but sometimes it’s hard to remain positive when you don’t land that dream job, when your boyfriend breaks up with you or when there’s family conflict.

Luckily, pastor Carl Lentz gave three steps to dealing with hard times.

1. Stay Active. If you keep giving to other people you will keep moving forward.

2. Stay Connected. Your relationships will make you or break you in a valley season. Everybody needs somebody.

3. Stay Focused. Refuse to take your eyes off of God’s promises.

Too many people let go of their dreams when a valley hits, don’t fall victim at the last minute, right before the …

March 1st, 2011
Amidst the social unrest and political upheaval in Egypt's capitol

nanci-martin-large

Father Dave interviews Nanci Martin, the Associate Vice President for Communications and Marketing at the American University in Cairo, about what it has been like living as an American Catholic amidst the social unrest and political upheaval in Egypt’s capitol.

Fr. Dave Dwyer: If you could give us your perspective as someone who is not just taking in what our American media is portraying as this situation… I mean, we usually don’t think of Egypt as a country where people live under oppression. Has it been horrible under [Hosni Mubarek], as we’ve been hearing? Has it been, “Phew! Thank God he’s out of there. How did we let him stay in there so long?” Was revolution warranted, in your opinion?

Nanci Martin: Well, you know, it’s funny because I’ve been here nine years… Egyptians are incredibly patient people… their perspective and history is so different from ours. We have such a young country. They’ve got a lot of patience. They’ve lived under English rule and they’ve had the military, so to speak. They had Sadat, and Nassar, and then Hosni Mubarek, all military men, since 1952. I think for a long time, Mubarek was very well respected, and I think

February 24th, 2011

bffWhen I was a ‘tween and teenager, I had two best friends. The three of us were our own little clique — inseparable and bonded in a sisterly way. Having two best friends instead of one caused some problems, sure, because there was often a tension between who was closest to whom, but generally, it worked. We were the Three Muskateers. We were Heuy, Dewey and Louie. We sat in the same place in the hallway of our middle- and high-school, we helped each other with homework, we had sleepovers and weekend adventures our albums are now filled with photos from confirmations to graduations to weddings.

As an adult, however, I’m blessed to have expanded that friendship circle to at least six women (not to mention a husband) with whom I confide my deepest, darkest secrets and joys. Which is better? A New York Times article on whether the “best friend” is something to be discouraged among children grabbed my attention.

While kids want a best friend, their helicopter parents and well-meaning educators are concerned that socializing as a pack might provide more emotional support, especially when emotions run high. Writes Hilary Stout

Most children naturally seek close …

February 20th, 2011

bhutan-refugee-largeYou haven’t heard from me in a little while. Miss me? School started just a few weeks ago and I’m already in the deep end of reporting. One of my first stories back was on refugees from the country of Bhutan.

Bhutan is this tiny nation nestled in South Asia, a country made up entirely of Buddhists. I was fooled once to believe it is a euphoric territory on earth, but soon learned that the nation had exiled more than 100,000 Nepali people from its land simply because they were Hindu. To add irony to the equation, the nation of Bhutan claims to measure its country on a metrics of “Happiness,” an emotion engrained into their public policy. How then do Buddhists, who claim such perfection, exile a people on religious ground?

This, of course, is not simply a religious matter. It is very much a political one. But the irony remains.  The beauty in this story is the faith.

When I interviewed activists who help Bhutanese refugees acclimate to the United States, the most important thing for these refugees, they said to me, is a place to pray.

One activist told me that the first thing refugees do when …

February 19th, 2011

trying-or-not-flashChildbearing outside marriage is on the rise, with some 40% of all births to unwed mothers. And more than half of unplanned pregnancies occur among women who were not using any form of contraception the month they conceived. Were all of those women just being careless?

Nope.

According to new research, led by Julia McQuillan at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, some women are trying to conceive, others are trying not to conceive — but a significant proportion of women, both unmarried and married, don’t fall into either category: They’re OK with either outcome. And to understand the new realities of American fertility means learning more about these women and their choices.

McQuillan and her coauthors, Arthur L. Greil of Alfred University and Karina Shreffler of Oklahoma State University, found that women who plan pregnancies tend to married–and a bit older, wealthier and more educated than the average American woman. Those who are trying to avoid a pregnancy tend to be in a cohabiting relationship, or have several children and/or step-children already.

Using data from nearly 5000 women ages 25-45 collected by the National Survey of Fertility Barriers, the researchers, whose findings are forthcoming in Maternal and Child

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